Let’s start with a hypothetical:
A pop rock band is recording a new song. It is a pretty generic, standard 3 minute pop song, with a 4/4 beat, verse/chorus structure. One of the band members spies some bagpipes in the corner of the studio, tells his band mates he used to play them as a kid, picks them up and begins playing along with the song. The others like the effect and decide to include the bagpipes in part of the recording. The band have never used bagpipes before.
Is this experimental music?
Michael Nyman in his book on John Cage defined experimental music (in part) as, “an act where the outcome is unknown”. In our hypothetical, the outcome was unknown to our band, so perhaps their song is experimental music.
John Whiteoak, author of the book Playing Adlib, makes the division between problem solving and problem creating music. And Warren Burt has written that true experimental music seeks to create problems without expectation of success or failure. The use of bagpipes by our pop band was on the surface a case of momentary inspiration, but another way of looking at it was that the band asked the question, “what if we use bagpipes?” The band judged the inclusion of bagpipes to be successful to the song, but if it had not been successful, they would likely have discarded the overdub. In this case, that would fail the definition of experimental music. But what if they then tried a gamelan instead, or a mic’d up power tool or vacuum cleaner?
All of the aforementioned writers talk about the importance of cultural context in any definition of experimental music. Let’s assume our band have never heard AC/DC’s “It’s A Long Way To The Top”. If they haven’t, should they have? Is it the duty of the experimental musician to be culturally aware and knowledgeable in their chosen field. Should they know if bagpipes have been used in pop music before?
Or is experimental music now a genre of music, just like blues, rock, punk, heavy metal, jazz, etc. Are we kidding ourselves that there is anything more to it than that? John Whiteoak often uses the term “exploratory music” instead of “experimental music”. Is experimental music an ideal (perhaps a quaint one at that) as opposed to a contemporary reality?
Please add your comments here as to what you think defines experimental music. It may help further define what will be listed in this blog.